The California Man Behind President Obama’s Recently Unveiled Portrait

The Los Angeles-born artist was handpicked by the former president for the project.

By now you’ve probably seen the portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama that now hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to see these works of art in person over President’s Day Weekend. The viewing demand resulted in a short wait to get up close and personal with the portraits. I can honestly say they were even more stunning in full view, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be there so soon after their debut.

What I didn’t know until after my visit is that Barack Obama’s painter, Kehinde Wiley, is also a California native.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 12: Former U.S. President Barack Obama stands artist Kehinde Wiley next to his newly unveiled portrait during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The portraits were commissioned by the Gallery, for Kehinde Wiley to create President Obama’s portrait, and Amy Sherald that of Michelle Obama. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

According to a story that ran in Los Angeles Magazine shortly before the unveiling, Wiley was born in Los Angeles in 1977. “He grew up in South Central, steeped in urban and hip-hop culture. At 11, he began formal art training, attending conservatory classes on the weekends, and soaked up everything he could from L.A.’s art museums. From there, he went on to study at the Art Institute of San Francisco and Yale before settling in New York.

His work has been shown extensively around the world, from the galleries at LACMA, the Hammer Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, to the VH1 Hip Hop Honors Awards, and a billboard campaign for Nike. Wiley is represented by the Roberts & Tilton gallery in Culver City, which has staged five shows with the artist in recent years.”

You can read more about Wiley and see some of his other portrait work here.

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